Long-term relationships are difficult, and many people in long relationships experience moments where they feel less connected, less intimate, and less engaged in the romance and passion they experienced when the relationship began. This is a normal part of a relationship and is not something to worry or fear; it is a result of seeping into the comfortable intimacy that comes with knowing someone and beginning to feel that you are in a safe and familiar relationship with your partner. But, if partners do not acknowledge together as a couple that it is happening and work to strengthen their connection with their spouse, it could lead to problematic outcomes. There are many statistics that talk about the unhappiness that often accompanies marriage, and most of the time, it involves a recipe of resentment, feelings of neglect, or feeling unappreciated that has developed in the relationship over time. This resentment may start small, but without processing where the feelings originated and working through them, it can develop into something severe that can lead a partner to thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that could then lead to separation or divorce.
Often, when resentment and negative feelings are stewing in a relationship, the first thing to disappear is the romance or passion that fueled the relationship at the start! When one or both partners begins to distance themselves emotionally, it can begin to feel as if partners are roommates who live together rather than people who are actively, passionately in love with one another and building their life together. When people begin to notice that their partner has stopped doing the “little things” that showed that they cared, it can make people less apt to try to discuss or work on things to improve their relationships and they sink into the unhappiness and begin to accept it.
If you’re feeling the distance deepen between you and your partner, here are some strategies to help improve your communication and romance to get your love back on track:
1. Become Detail-Oriented
- Often the first thing to disappear when we are comfortable in a relationship are all the small things that show our partners that we care. Taking a step back and noticing the things you love about your partner and the things you love that they do for you is a great way to re-appreciate them. Then, once you have reflected on that and reconnected with the things you love most about them, TELL THEM! Small mentions of the positive things they do in an appreciative way goes a long way.
2. Listen to What Isn’t Being Said
- If you are noticing that you and your spouse aren’t communicating the same way you used to, that’s a clue that something is up. Patterns of passive aggressiveness or backing down from a discussion probably mean that either you or your partner has some underlying resentment impacting your ability to connect on a healthy level. Check in with your partner about the changes in communication patterns and you may be able to identify and work through feelings of resentment.
3. When Things ARE Said, Use Healthy Communication Skills to Connect
When having tough conversations, the way you engage with your partner will determine how productive it will be. Here are some tips for how to maintain healthy communication skills while in conflict:
-Use eye contact and appropriate body language
-Having relaxed posture, leaning in to suggest that they have your attention, nodding and appropriate facial expressions.
-Make sure your partner is listening/hearing you
-Ensure they are giving you the same attention/body language you are giving to them.
-Try speaking only about your experience and feelings and not what the other person is doing that is evoking those feelings.
-“I am feeling lonely” will lead to a much more productive conversation than “You make me feel like I’m alone.”
Summarize what a person has said before you respond to confirm that you have heard them correctly.
4. Engage in Special Time Together
- This one seems like the most obvious, but the best way to bring romance back into a relationship is to do it through connecting experiences; dates, classes or activities, or trips/adventures together can help remind a couple why they love their partner.
- This also involves dedicating time to being intimate, both sexually and interpersonally, with one another; sharing feelings and thoughts and connecting sexually can help to improve feelings about the relationship.
5. Give Each Other Space
- We’ve all heard the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and while special time and romantic events are important to help reignite their passion, it’s also important to give each other personal space and time. Having alone time can help partners perspective take and allow partners to reconnect and look at their relationship with renewed energy and warmth.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events